My country South Sudan comes from a long history of conflict dating back to 1955. The ongoing civil war negatively affects millions of people, destroys lives and prevents Sudanese from achieving their full potential as individuals and as a community. Although our people are deprived of basic human rights and needs including education, they continue to brave up to each challenge they face every second of their lives.
“Education is key to life”
The dawn of South Sudan’s modern history is characterized by the fundamental understanding that education is the key to life, as attested in our constitution. However, the path to providing it has been bumpy and unsuccessful in many regards.
When asked the question, “what did the people of South Sudan want after independence?” many of us, including myself, aspired to see our children go to school, get the health services they need, travel freely, drive on modern roads to visit grandparents, and, of course, have access to basic needs like clean water, electricity to do homework, and the chance to make friends from other communities.
South Sudan has yet to realize these ambitions. The independence we gained did not end the conflict, and civil war left us with grave impacts. Back home, my nephews and nieces fall within the millions of South Sudanese children deprived of an education.
Most families are displaced from their homes, uprooted from communities and schools as a direct result of ongoing conflict.
Conflict and insecurity hinder schooling
The National Education Coalition in South Sudan recently conducted an assessment, which highlights conflict and insecurity as a key barrier to children attending school. Children can no longer walk freely to school. They no longer receive adequate meals to enhance learning and classroom performance.
The inability to cultivate farms, especially in parts of Equatoria and greater upper Nile regions means communities lack financial resources to support the education of their children. In areas where children are in schools, the low quality of education is evident.
I have cousins both in 7th and 8th grades in Bortown, Jonglei State, whose writing and oral skills equal that of my son in 2nd grade who attends school in Nairobi. This is due to the lack of quality trained teachers.
In South Sudan, over 60% of primary school teachers have a secondary education or below. With peace on the horizon for war-torn South Sudan, I appeal to the government and development partners to invest in teacher training programs. If not for the welfare of South Sudan then as a tangible action to commitments indicated in the Country’s Vision 2040.
Malawi: an inspiring example
In June this year, I was privileged to visit Malawi together with a team from the Ministry of General Education and Instruction headed by Minister Deng Deng. This was a valuable learning experience for the whole team.
I was amazed to learn how a country such as Malawi, with limited resources, could invest hugely in education. Not just financially, but also politically.
The committee of education for example has a real impact at the government level to influence the policies and appeals to the Ministry of Finance to allocate more funds to education.
I was also inspired by the level of coordination between the central government, districts and schools, in particular how community engagement works hand in hand with the education sector.
There are numerous reasons why community engagement must be encouraged at the highest level. For one, the school environment is a sub-set of a community.
The immediate beneficiary of knowledge gained is always the individual and through socialization, valuable knowledge and information is spread among the community. South Sudan can learn and adopt from these shared lessons and experiences.
Civil society has a role to play to improve education
The visit to Malawi Education Coalition strengthened my position on ways to deal with education sector and wider advocacy debates. The conducive environment the coalition operates in, ensures a successful roll out of programs.
Though we may not have the same operational environment, our Ministry of General Education has acknowledged the important role of the Education Coalition and now works with us as equal partners vested in free and quality education for all.
As I write this post, I am attending the ‘Safe Schools’ conference in Addis Ababa-Ethiopia. I realize that both government and development partners can work hand in hand for better education opportunities for the children of South Sudan who represent our future.
Each time I am crossing an international border, I always need a passport and formal travel permit. Education is the passport the children of South Sudan need to cross boundaries in their journey for self-realization.